Experimental evidence that GNA and TNA were not sequential polymers in the prebiotic evolution of RNA

Ying Wei Yang, Su Zhang, Elizabeth O. McCullum, John C. Chaput

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Systematic investigation into the chemical etiology of ribose has led to the discovery of glycerol nucleic acid (GNA) and threose nucleic acid (TNA) as possible progenitor candidates of RNA in the origins of life. Coupled with their chemical simplicity, polymers for both systems are capable of forming stable Watson-Crick antiparallel duplex structures with themselves and RNA, thereby providing a mechanism for the transfer of genetic information between successive genetic systems. Investigation into whether both polymers arose independently or descended from a common evolutionary pathway would provide additional constraints on models that describe the emergence of a hypothetical RNA world. Here we show by thermal denaturation that complementary GNA and TNA mixed sequence polymers are unable, even after prolonged incubation times, to adopt stable helical structures by intersystem cross-pairing. This experimental observation suggests that GNA and TNA, whose structures derive from one another, were not consecutive polymers in the same evolutionary pathway to RNA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-295
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Molecular Evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2007


  • Glycerol nucleic acid
  • RNA world
  • Threose nucleic acid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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